NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Developing a Secure Attachment Style: What is Earned Secure Attachment?

In a prior article, Relationships: What is Your Attachment Style?, I discussed attachment styles and how these styles affect relationships.  I also mentioned that if you have an insecure attachment, either anxious or avoidant, it's possible to change and develop an earned secure attachment style (ESA), which is the focus of this article.

What is Earned Secure Attachment?

What is Earned Attachment Style (ESA)?
As I mentioned in my prior article, people who have an insecure attachment style experienced insecure parenting when they were growing up.  Often this is intergenerational with one generation after another experiencing insecure parenting for various reasons.

In the past, it was thought that if you developed an insecure attachment style that you couldn't change, but we now know that the human capacity to grow and change enables people to develop an earned secure attachment style.  

How Can You Develop an ESA?
There are two main ways that you can develop an ESA:
  • Attending Psychotherapy: People who develop an insecure attachment style can develop an ESA by attending psychotherapy to work on unresolved childhood attachment issues to learn to develop a safe and trusting relationship with their therapist.  These individuals learn to make sense of their childhood history and work through their unresolved childhood trauma.  
  • Developing Trusting Relationships: Experiencing a loving and trusting relationship in a friendship or with a romantic partner is another way to develop ESA.  Loving and trusting relationships provides people with an insecure attachment style with new experiences within the security of these relationships.
Making Sense of Your Early Attachment Style
One of the hallmarks of ESA is the ability to tell a coherent narrative about your early history without defensiveness. This might sound strange--unless you have heard someone with insecure attachment talk about their childhood attachment history.  

For instance, someone with an insecure attachment style often gives a disjointed narrative about their childhood experiences.  These individuals need extensive prompting to get a full narrative or there are big gaps in the narrative because their memories of childhood are fuzzy or whole parts are missing.  

Sometimes people with an insecure attachment style, who have problems recalling childhood memories or have big gaps in their recall, will start to talk about their childhood and then defensively deflect the conversation to talk about something else that is unrelated ("I had an okay childhood, but last night I watched a horror movie").

Another more subtle example which is common with people who have insecure attachment would be, "I was often alone and afraid a lot as a child, BUT I grew up to be a stronger person."  In this example the person is defensively downplaying his or her childhood history because it remains unresolved and there is often shame about it.

Compare the above statement from a person with insecure attachment to this statement from a person with ESA, "I was often alone and afraid a lot as a child AND I know that part of that was due to the struggles my family was going through at the time."  

This statement by someone with ESA shows an ability to reflect upon their childhood history without being defensive or deflecting from the topic.

From Insecure Attachment to Earned Secure Attachment
When you move from insecure attachment to ESA, you develop a balanced and mindful approach to your childhood history without being defensive about it.

This change doesn't happen overnight because early childhood experiences have a profound effect on how you feel about yourself and others.  You might not trust others at first, including your therapist, but over time you can learn to feel confident in yourself and trusting of others who are worthy of your trust.

What Are the Signs of ESA?
  • An overall positive view of yourself and others
  • A belief that you are a worthy individual
  • An ease and comfort with being close to others 
  • A positive regard for people who have demonstrated themselves to be trustworthy and dependable in your life
  • An ability to depend on others and have others depend on you in a healthy way
  • An ability and comfort with being alone sometimes without the need to always have someone around
  • A comfort with others in your life who might need their own alone time
  • An ability to balance emotional intimacy and independence
  • An ability to tell a coherent narrative about your early attachment experiences (see above, Making Sense of Your Early Attachment Style)

Getting Help in Therapy
Not everyone is lucky enough to form trusting friendships and romantic relationships that help them to go from insecure to earned secure attachment.  

Part of the problem is that, due to unresolved traumatic childhood experiences of abuse or neglect, people often make poor choices with regard to their relationships or don't trust people who are actually trustworthy.

If you're struggling with an insecure (anxious or avoidant) attachment style, you could benefit from working with a psychotherapist who has the expertise to help you develop an ESA.

Rather than struggling on your own, you can seek help from a licensed mental health professional so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.